MILAN — Alessi may be marking its 100th anniversary, but president Alberto Alessi is clearly one to look ahead rather than back. So much so that the exhibition to be staged during Milan Design Week is dubbed “Alessi 100-001,” the latter figures symbolizing the beginning of a new century.
“I’m more interested in seeking new ideas, always experimenting to contribute to the evolution of design, remaining relevant to this and future generations. The past only interests me insofar as it can inform what we will do tomorrow,” Alessi explained.
Case in point, and reflecting the need to always push boundaries, Alessi last year teamed with Virgil Abloh, who created a set of cutlery that will be unveiled this week and that managed to surprise the Italian entrepreneur — despite his lifelong experience working with designers. “His eclecticism and openness to different and contrasting languages is in line with Alessi, but I confess I was quite speechless when I first saw the set. Designers are usually measured, but here was a selection of rustic pieces inspired by the world of a mechanical workshop,” said Alessi of working with the late designer. “I remember the first reference he showed me was a wrench. I found this very interesting as it was a new approach for us.”
Alessi has over the past 50 years produced more than 20 designs for cutlery by designers and architects such as Achille Castiglioni, Ettore Sottsass, Marcel Wanders and Massimiliano and Doriana Fuksas. “All these exemplified a very elegant approach typical of Italian design. This was very far from what Abloh proposed,” he said.
The stainless-steel cutlery set made in Italy features geometric shapes and comprises a knife, fork, spoon and a carabiner to fasten all three together, either in the context of a new way of setting the table, or as a means of attaching these utensils to the body.
The set, limited to 999 units, was created in partnership with Abloh and his London-based design studio Alaska Alaska, and it will be showcased in a modern-surrealist installation created by Studio Temp, the Italian graphic design studio that is a regular Abloh collaborator. Abloh contacted Alberto Alessi to suggest that they might work together and he had in mind a new approach to designing tableware in general and cutlery in particular. Alessi said other products designed by Abloh, who also trained as an architect, will be produced at some point, including his reworking of some iconic Alessi products.
The set will be showcased in a bright green walkthrough that feels like a natural setting interpreted by a computer programmer. Into this geometric landscape, designed by Italian graphic design studio Studio Temp, are inserted giant versions of the new-project objects, creating a surreal experience for the visitor. Through a specially developed Instagram filter using green-screen technology, people can create imagery that merges the digital world with the physical.
This is the first of a series of “Conversational Objects” to be fleshed out with ceramics and tableware later next year, in addition to Alaska reimagining an Alessi classic.
“Alessi is the result of the collaborations we have done with so many design minds like [Ettore] Sottsass, [Philippe] Starck, [Alessandro] Mendini and [Achille] Castiglioni. Each of them has left an important mark and contributed to what the company has become. Virgil Abloh is the latest name to add to that list and I cannot think of anyone better to express our desire to remain relevant and contemporary for today’s and future generations,” mused Alessi.
The “Alessi 100-001” exhibition is being staged at Milan’s Galleria Manzoni on Via Manzoni, designed by Rationalist architect Alziro Bergonzo dating back to 1949. The exhibit begins with what is called “a corridor of curiosities,” where Alessi invited Amdl Circle, the multidisciplinary studio founded by his longtime friend and collaborator, designer, and architect Michele de Lucchi — to curate 12 rooms to express and illustrate the 12 core values of the brand.
These values, were “acquired step by step over the years by meeting the great national and international designers we’ve worked with,” said Alessi, and are industrial craftsmanship; art; paradox; beyond; hybridization; research lab; irony; borderline; poetry; thingness; transgression, and futurespective. “The value of transgression and being borderline were made clear to me through Philippe Starck in the mid-‘80s, when he created the juicer that bridged that subtle and invisible line between possible and impossible and what the public was willing to understand,” said Alessi.
Alessi has issued 12 limited-edition products, releasing one a month from May 2021, which make up the 100 Alessi Values Collection, and they are presented in a series of installations, some of which are interactive.
Industrial Craftsmanship is represented by a room into which a corner of the Alessi factory in Omegna has been literally transplanted. “This defines our identity, mixing industrial skills with the work of our artisans, which allows us to be more flexible and be open to follow the indications provided by the designers,” said Alessi.
The Research Lab room will display a selection of more than 30 different coffee makers and coffee pots designed by 30 designers from around the world, including prototypes of projects never put into production belonging to the Alessi Museum collection and here displayed for the public for the first time.
Paradox presents an unexpected art installation created using toilet paper, staged in a room entirely in gold, to celebrate the Merdolino toilet brush gold edition.
Alessi, founded in Omegna in 1921 by Giovanni Alessi, has collaborated with over 300 world-famous designers and architects. Since June 10, 2020, it has been a B Corp.
Following Milan Design Week, “Alessi 100 – 001” will travel to the company’s main markets.
For the future, Alessi hopes the company will maintain its “love for research and risk-taking. I have a great opinion of failures, as they allow to acquire more sensibility and learn to curb those mistakes.”
Asked if there ever was a product that he did not believe would be successful, he said the Anna G. corkscrew designed by Mendini. “He was perhaps the closest to me and he prided himself on designing objects that would not sell based on his sophisticated taste, but this went right to the heart of the public. I really did not expect it, it was a great success,” he said with a smile.